Shortly before sunrise Saturday the U.S. Senate quickly and without debate passed the National Park Service Centennial Act, assuring the Park Service a relatively small, but helpful, infusion of dollars to help maintain the sprawling National Park System. U.S. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, made a motion about 6 a.m. Eastern that the House version of the legislation be approved with unanimous consent and the chamber agreed.
While the House passed its version of the act on Wednesday, the Senate version was attached to a massive Energy Bill that died.
Though it looked like Democrats in the Senate would force the government to shut down at midnight Friday over a dispute regarding the funding of health benefits for coal miners, they relented shortly before midnight and the chamber passed a Continuing Resolution to keep government operating into April. That provided the chamber with additional time to finish last-minute work, such as passage of the Park Service Centennial Act.
As passed by the House, the legislation increases the price of a lifetime pass for senior citizens 62 and older to $80 from its current $10 lifetime fee. Seniors who don't want to pay the $80 could purchase an annual pass for $20.
Park Service staff estimate that the increase in the cost of a senior pass would generate $20 million a year.
The legislation, drafted by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, had bipartisan support in the House. It calls for deposit of up to $10 million generated from all Park Service sales of America The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes into a Second Century Endowment for the National Park Service to be managed by the National Park Foundation. Any revenues above $10 million would be deposited in a Centennial Challenge fund for projects in the parks. However, they would need to be matched by private dollars before they could be spent as the legislation is written.
The House also approved an annual appropriation of $5 million to the National Park Foundation for each of the 2017-2023 fiscal years for use as matching funds for contributions made to the foundation.
Missing from the House bill was a request from Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, to amend the bill with a requirement that Congress appropriate an additional $300 million per year for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019 to help the Park Service address its maintenance backlog, estimated at $12 billion.